Paranoid Park

Paranoid Park

Film review by: Witney Seibold


            The subject matter of Gus Van Sant’s “Paranoid Park” is straight out of an after-school special. Or perhaps an early episode of “Beverly Hills 90210.” The teen angst, the sexual pressure, the inability to communicate with adults, and the single shocking event that haunts the poor young hero… all of these have been used in countless Young Adult novels. Appropriately enough, as the film is based on a teen novel by Blake Nelson.


            The execution, however, belies any crass or obvious melodrama the subject matter suggests. Van Sant has set his film entirely in the mind and world of its teenage hero Alex (Gabe Nevins), so rather than a straightforward approach to his life, we get glimpses of the various facets. Here he is chatting with his funny best friend (Lauren McKinney). Here he is fending off the sexual advances of his all-too-bubbly girlfriend (Taylor Momsen). Here he is hanging out at the titular skateboarding park, the one place he feels truly alive (although you wouldn’t know it to look at his blank face). Here he is answering questions asked by police detective Lu (Daniel Liu). Wait… Police detective? Yes, a crime has been committed, our hero knows all about it, and spends most of the film wrestling with his Dostoyevskian guilt. I hope the reader will forgive me for using the word “Dostoyevskian.”


            The film is narrated by Alex from a paper he’s writing. He reads like a teenager does: flatly, with half-interest, like he’s reciting an assignment for class. He repeats certain scenes, sometimes with different perspectives, but sometimes not. He tells the story out of order; This is not a gimmick to falsely inflate suspense, but the way Alex recalls things. He even apologizes for mixing things up a bit.


            Alex, despite his blank expression, and the cold defiance he tries to paste onto his cherubic face, holds a close kinship with Van Sant’s alienated teens in “Elephant” (beyond just being dressed well). Smarter than they let on, much more interested in their own insular worlds than anything the adults have to offer (yet are intensely interested in emulating adult behavior), and trapped by their own inability to express themselves in any sort of articulate way. Van Sant is very interested in teen angst, but real life teen angst, and not After-School Special teen angst. He sees endless depth in the vacant eyes of teenagers. He understands (and this is true) that teenagers have very intense feelings, but are rarely sophisticated enough to express them properly which leads to turmoil, pain, and often vice.

             Paranoid Park” is slow and directionless and may anger those waiting for a climax, but as a meditation, it’s very good. Plus the gorgeous photography by master Christopher Doyle is amazing.

Published in: on March 20, 2008 at 6:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

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